Take a look into the April night skies to see the brightest planets in the night sky. Three, and then by April’s second week, four planets will be available for early risers who are up by or soon after the break of dawn. They will be all clustered low in the east-southeast part of the sky.
Venus is by far the brightest, but in close proximity though only about a hundredth as bright are Mars and Saturn. Jupiter, second in brightness to Venus, begins to make itself evident during the second week of this month and will spend the rest of April slowly creeping closer to Venus. They will make for an eye-catching pair low in the east-southeast sky at month’s end. And along the way, the moon will pass all four planets: Saturn on April 25, Mars on April 26 and Venus and Jupiter on April 27.
Meanwhile, holding court in the evening sky all by itself, shines Mercury during the second half of April, low in the west-northwest about a half-hour after sundown; its best evening apparition for this year.
In our schedule, remember that when measuring the angular separation between two celestial objects, your clenched fist held at arm’s length measures roughly 10-degrees. Here, we present a schedule below which provides some of the best planet viewing times as well directing you as to where to look to see them.
Related: Night sky for April 2022
Mercury reaches superior conjunction on the far side of the sun on April 2, but then vaults into dusk visibility during mid-April. Skywatchers around latitude 40 degrees north who look 30 minutes after sunset will find Mercury shining at least 10 degrees above the west-northwest horizon from April 18 to May 6.
Although Mercury fades 0.1 magnitude per day, during the latter half of the month, the planet will present mid-northern observers with its best apparition of the year. On April 29, Mercury reaches its greatest elongation, 21 degrees east of the sun; as twilight deepens, use binoculars to see the Pleiades 1.5 degrees to the upper right of the planet. On the evening of May 6, Mercury will be within 10 degrees of the orange star Aldebaran, though the planet will have faded to magnitude +1.6.
Just past its greatest elongation from the sun (March 20) Venus is by far the brightest and easiest planet to see in April’s dawn twilight. Nevertheless, it’s less than 20 degrees high at sunrise for observers around latitude 40 degrees north during this month, and its blaze dims a little during April as its globe shrinks as it recedes from Earth.
On April 1, early risers, about 75 minutes before sunrise can look very low near the east-southeast horizon for a cluster of not one, but three planets this morning. Along with Venus, the other two planets, off to its right are much dimmer: Saturn 4 degrees away and Mars, 2 degrees to Saturn’s right. You may need binoculars to see them well. Later in the month, Venus teams with Jupiter to make for an eye-catching pair; a crescent moon will join them on April 27. See Jupiter below.
Mars is still no higher than it was during all of January, February and March. It brightens slightly in April from magnitude +1.1 to +0.9, but it still doesn’t look like much in a telescope, appearing as little more than a tiny yellow-orange dot.
Mars is speeding eastward against the background stars. It moves from Capricornus into Aquarius on April 12 and as the Earth gradually catches up to it in our faster orbit around the sun, we will see it enter Pisces in late May, and cross Aries from early July into early August. Mars will spend the rest of the year — its months of glory when nearest the Earth — shining in Taurus high in the late-evening sky.
It will linger between the horns of Taurus from mid-September through mid-December while swelling in apparent size to a maximum of 17.2 arc seconds in early December — its best showing until 2033. Mars will have a very close encounter with Saturn on April 5. See Saturn below. Early on the morning of April 26, the moon will pass Mars. Both objects are visible low in the east-southeast in the early dawn, with Mars positioned about 6.5 degrees to the moon’s upper right.
After spending the past month obscured by the brilliant glare of the sun, Jupiter finally begins emerging back into view during the second week of April. On the morning of April 8, about a half an hour before sunrise, look low near the eastern horizon for the bright light of this big planet, situated about 20 degrees to the lower left of Venus.
Over the next three weeks, watch as Jupiter steadily climbs toward Venus and slowly and dramatically closes the gap between them by roughly one degree per day. On the morning of April 27, it will be likely that radio stations and early morning TV news shows will be getting phone calls inquiring as to what those two ‘very bright stars’ are, hovering above the slender crescent moon.
But ‘in-the-know’ Space.com followers will already know that they’re not UFOs but Jupiter and Venus. They are in conjunction on April 30, making for a spectacular sight in the east-southeast sky just before sunrise.
Saturn will engage with Mars on April 5. The Red Planet overtakes Saturn early this morning with the two planets engaged in rather tight conjunction. The two planets are separated by less than 0.4 degrees, with Saturn shining above and at magnitude +0.9, appearing to shine a trifle brighter than Mars (+1.0).
Binoculars will bring out the orange-yellow color of Mars contrasting with the yellow-white glow of Saturn. On the morning of April 25, look for a ringed planet hovering like a bright yellowish-white ‘star’ about 8 degrees to the upper right of the fat, waning crescent moon.
Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York’s Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmers’ Almanac and other publications. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.